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SAFM - WHY DO EXECUTIVES NOW NEED EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS?

Last week the Brazilian company JBS SA agreed to acquire Pilgrim’s Pride, making it the world’s largest meat processor ahead of Tyson Foods Inc (TSN).  As expected, TSN played down the potential impact the industry consolidation may have on future business.  Clearly, others in the industry are preparing for further consolidation.  SAFM’s strong fundamentals, some of the best we have seen in years, combined with the fact that management could possibly sell the company, make SAFM a WIN WIN in my book.    

 

The following is a summary from Michelle Leder.        

 

Employment agreements may seem like a pretty standard feature at most public companies. And to be sure, the overwhelming majority of companies provide their executives with employment contracts. But some companies -- for various reasons -- choose not to offer them. Or they only offer them to a few executives. So when a company that has made a point of not offering employment contracts begins to start offering them, you need to ask yourself why.

 

That's exactly the case with Sanderson Farms, which earlier this week entered into employment agreements with CEO Joe Sanderson Jr., Chief Operating Officer Lampkin Butts and CFO D. Michael Cockrell. None of the three executives are new to the company. Nor do they have new jobs -- the logical reasons that companies enter into employment contracts.

 

So that leaves us with the illogical reasons: the company is putting various protections in place for the executives in the event of a deal. All three of the new agreements have fairly standard language about what happens upon a change in control of the company, say if the executive's commute to work becomes longer than 40 miles one-way. Given Sanderson Farm's relatively remote location, it's a pretty safe bet that anyone buying the company would be beyond that distance. There's was also this phrase that caught our attention in the agreement: "the alteration of the Executive’s position in a way that significantly changes his status, offices, reporting requirements, authority, daily routine or responsibilities as they existed before the Change in Control." Under that scenario, even if the person's title remained the same, there would still be a way to trigger the change in control provisions.

 

The stock is down about 20% since mid-June and short-interest remains fairly high at around 9%. But back on Aug. 25, when Sanderson reported its third quarter earnings, my colleague, Howard Penney, put out a bullish note on SAFM, saying that the outlook "looks to be very bullish for the next couple of years if all of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place." Howard's main thesis was that falling feed prices and higher chicken prices combined with robust demand all made for positives, especially if demand from food service companies picked up.

 


ASCA: TOP LINE STRUGGLE BUT BOTTOM LINE OPP

ASCA is one of the few (maybe the only) gaming/lodging companies with dry powder to improve margins. They’ll need it when the duration of the regional downturn extends longer than people are expecting.

 

 

In a strong stock market, ASCA is 27% off its recent high and is the worst performing gaming stock since early June.  The reasons?  A weak Q2 and soft top line through August.  The soft top line is likely to persist, longer than investors currently think, in our opinion.  That’s a problem for all of the regionals.  At least ASCA still has some dry powder in the form of cost cutting that is probably not available to the other gaming operators, and most leisure companies for that matter.

 

We are of the belief that duration of the regional downturn will be longer than currently anticipated by investors.  The gas price headwind beginning in December, a higher sustained savings rate of the US consumer, and a continued decline in the % of Personal Consumption Expenditures devoted to gaming are the major drivers of that thesis.  Gaming revenues may disappoint in Q4 and through the first half of 2010.

 

On the cost side, gaming operators have done a great job cutting.  It looks like they need same store revenue gains to generate margin expansion from here on out.  They won’t get it.  While ASCA has already generated meaningful cost reductions, there is more to come.  ASCA’s properties operate a significantly larger number of restaurants and amenities than its competitors in almost every one of their markets.  In Kansas City and St. Louis, ASCA owns almost twice as many restaurants as the respective market average.

 

Why is this important?  Food & Beverage (F&B) generate low margins relative to the other functions, and probably negative margins when comped meals and drinks are factored in.  F&B comps represent approximately 80% of the total comps for regional casinos.  No casino operator makes money on F&B.  We think ASCA will close restaurants and reduce operating hours, and has the capacity to do that, should the downturn continue.  ASCA incurred about $75 million in expenses from F&B last year and $33 million through 1H 2009.  We think the company could save another $15-20 million or $0.16-0.21 in EPS next year.

 

I don’t know if the cost cutting dry powder is enough to make the stock go higher in the face of an extended downturn.  The regionals moved out of a horrible fundamental backdrop to “less bad” then to “stability” this year and we were there cheering them on.  Despite no evidence to support “recovery”, the stocks continued to climb.  Top line will continue to be a challenge for the regionals and revenue estimates for 2010 are probably too high across the board.  However, at least ASCA has a potential offset.


German PPI on the Rise

The German Producer Price Index rose +0.5% in August month-over-month and improved on an annual basis to -6.9%, signaling an inflection point in PPI. We believe this inflection is another indication of rising inflation in Q4 for Europe’s largest economy, and expect to see an incremental rise in CPI sequentially in the intermediate term. 

 

It is worth noting that energy costs are a main component of PPI (contributing to some two-thirds in change of the index, according to the Federal Statistics Office) and that the plummet of energy prices off last summer’s highs will define annual compares going into Q4. With PPI peaking in September ’08, the annual reading in August still yielded a discount in energy of 14.3%. However on a sequential basis, PPI gained 1.1%.  

 

As changes on the margin matter for our analytical process, it’s worth noting the divergence between comparing components on an annual versus sequential basis: while heating oil, diesel, and gas fell 34.9%, 20.5% and 8.5% respectfully annually, sequentially the components rose 11.5%, 5%, and 4.6% versus the previous month.

 

We see Germany slowly moving out of a deflationary environment into Q4. We expect a steady rise in CPI, which currently stands at -0.1% in August (annually, Eurostat) and that as inflation moves out to 2010 the ECB will need to raise rates to stem inflation. The danger therein lies that the stronger economies of the Eurozone (ie. German and France) stand to benefit from a rate hike at the expense of the weaker ones (ie. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, to name a few). 

 

On balance we continue to be bullish on Germany but are not invested in Europe on the long side. Currently we’re short the UK via the etf EWU.

 

 

Matthew Hedrick
Analyst

 

German PPI on the Rise - a2


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THE WEEK AHEAD

The Economic Data calendar for the week of the 21th through the 25th is relatively light. Attached below is a snapshot of some (though far from all) of the headline numbers that we will be focused on.  

 

 

Monday Sept. 21

 

North America

Leading Indicators for August will be released at 10 AM.

 

Europe

In the UK, Rightmove house prices for September will be released on Sunday evening while on Monday the DMO will be placing its new 2050 Index-linker issue (UK TIP equivalent).

 

Asia

Markets will be closed in Japan on Monday for a holiday.

 

 

Tuesday Sept. 22

 

North America

A FOMC 2 day meeting will commence on Tuesday and the Treasury will be auctioning 2 year notes at 1 PM. Weekly ICSC, Redbook and ABC Consumer Comfort index data will also be released at normal scheduled times. In Canada, Retail Sales figures for July will be released at 8:30 AM.

 

Europe

August trade balance data will be released in Switzerland on Tuesday morning.

 

Asia

August unemployment will be announced in Taiwan on Tuesday morning as will HK CPI for August.

 

 

Wednesday Sept. 23

 

North America

Weekly MBA Mortgage application data will be released on Wednesday morning along with EIA oil gas and distillate stock levels. At 1 PM the Treasury will auction 5 year Notes while the FOMC Policy Announcement is scheduled for 2:15 PM.

 

Europe

Reuters PMI for the Eurozone in aggregate, Germany and France (Composite, Services and Manufacturing) for September will be released on Wednesday morning as will Eurozone Industrial orders. French Consumer Spending figures for July, as well as Business Confidence and production Outlook sentiment index levels for September will also be published.  At 5:15 am Germany will issue a 5 year Bobl (note that last week’s auction saw orders exceed supply by a major margin). In the UK, BBA Mortgage and Consumer Credit data for August will be issued while the BOE minutes from the September 10th meeting will be published at 4:30 AM.

 

Asia

Taiwanese Export orders and Industrial Production figures for August will be issued on Wednesday morning, as will Singapore CPI.  Despite financial markets being closed for Autumn Equinox Japanese trade data for August will be released on Wednesday evening. 

 

 

Thursday Sept. 24

 

North America

August Existing Homes Sales will  be released at 10AM, while at 1 PM the Treasruy will auction 7 year Notes. Weekly Initial Claims, M2 and EIA Natural gas stocks data will be released at the normally scheduled times.

 

Europe

German IFO Business Sentiment measures for September are slated for release on Thursday while September Consumer Confidence figures will be issued in France. In Italy, July Trade data will be issued.

 

Asia

August Trade data will be announced in Hong Kong on Thursday morning. In Japan July All-Industry Index levels will be announced in the morning while in the evening August Corporate Service Prices will be issued. Indian weekly Wholesale Inflation levels are also scheduled for release.

 

 

Friday Sept. 25

 

North America

Durable Orders and Shipments for August will be released at 8:30 AM on Friday while the Michigan Sentiment Final for September will be issued at 9:55. At 10 AM New Home sales Figures for August will be announced.

 

Europe

Eurozone M3, French Q2 GDP (Final) and Italian Retail Sales for Italy are all on the calendar for Friday morning as is UK Q2 Business Investment data.

 

Asia

On Friday morning August Manufacturing data will be issued in Singapore as will Taiwanese August M2.


MONEY CALLS OF THE DAY

TECHNOLOGY: AAPL:  MOTHS TO THE FLAME…

By Rebecca Runkle and Team

 

“Thus hath the candle singd the moath”  William Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice) 

 

A sell-side shop upgraded Apple this morning.

 

Upgrading Apple after it’s doubled in 6 months and is over-bought reminds me of watching moths flutter around a night-time light as a young girl growing up in Colorado.  No one knows for sure why moths do what they do, but there are theories.  My favorite:  these creatures are irresistibly attracted to the bright light (Apple) due to an evolutionary short circuit of sorts (easier to upgrade at $180 than $90).   

   

Don’t get me wrong, Apple’s a great fundamental story and we are short it not because the franchise is going to hell in a hand-basket tomorrow.  We are short it in the virtual portfolio because it is over-bought, because Keith got his price and because if we did manage money we’d be selling some of our long position up here – not buying more.  Risk management, plain and simple.

 

Other names we like are MOT and YHOO, but price matters.

 

See Rebecca Runkle’s portal for more details 

 

 

HEALTHCARE: A DIFFERENT ANGLE ON FLU SEASON INVESTING 

By Tom Tobin and Team

 

H1N1 has boosted the performance of stocks we included in our Influenza screen.  In the last 2 weeks the trajectory of visits to physician offices has broken out to the upside.  When I went to compare the report for the same week last year, the report is not there because there is not typically a flu season in August to comment on.  Flu spreads when the weather gets cool and humidity drops because those conditions boost its survival out of the body and the chance to spread.  There is a raging flu season already in the US, even before the weather turns cool.  Starting from such a high concentration of flu cases means there are more chances for the virus to spread person to person; think exponential. 

 

What may be another way to look at flu is absenteeism in the workplace.  If flu gets out of hand, temp staffing will be catching a bid and suffering the same absenteeism which could spell pricing and volume.   While there is not complete overlap with nurse staffing (CCRN AHS and ASGN)  there may be some work to be done there on the long side.  Keith likes the quantitative set up telling me at least two of these stocks “look fantastic.”

 

AMGN, QGEN and UNH are our favorite names in Healthcare.

 

See Tom Tobin’s portal for more details 

 

 

RETAIL – RETAIL FIRST LOOK: SEPTEMBER 18, 2009

By Brian McGough and Team

 

A conversation with Dick’s Sporting Goods management suggested that Under Armour’s launch of running shoes in their stores was inline with plans and overall DKS was pleased with the product. This is particularly noteworthy because the general perception across the marketplace and the Street is that the launch did not live up to expectations. Clearly there were some disappointments. However, with DKS being one of UA’s largest partners we think the vote of confidence bodes well for future product proliferation.

 

See Brian McGough portal for the call outs of the day …  

 

UA continues to be our favorite long-term names…


(Swine) Flu Season Already?

At the risk of being alarmist, we are pointing out the following graphics on (Swine) Flu with caution.  In no way is the Research Edge Retail team pretending to be CDC workers or doctors, but we would be foolish to ignore such eye opening trends.  The charts below tell the story, although we can say with certainty the media isn’t shying away from what may become the most talked about national topic in the coming weeks and months.   As evidence as to how consensus the concerns are, do a quick Google News search for “Flu” and you’ll find around 75mm hits, with about 39mm of them related to H1N1 specifically, and about symptoms, prevention, and the effectiveness of wearing surgical masks.

 

(Swine) Flu Season Already? - flu chart 1.1

 

We’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to stay home, avoid public places, and use Purell every five minutes.  However, we’re fairly sure if the Flu virus continues to permeate the rest of the U.S with the speed and breadth as we have observed in recent weeks in the South, then there will be implications for consumer spending in both quantity, category and channel.  

 

(Swine) Flu Season Already? - flu map 1.2

 

So, how should we think about the potential impact of Swine Flu fear and/or actual symptoms impacting a large portion of the U.S population?  The obvious answer is to think about which retailers may benefit from this pandemic, which include CVS, WAG, and RAD. For those thinking about which companies may suffer most, mall-based retailing could take the biggest hit as consumers look to avoid highly populated public areas.  For the extremists, Amazon.com, Drugstore.com, FedEx, and UPS all could benefit from cocooning.

 

We don’t have all the answers and we’re not into “playing” names at the expense of human suffering, but this is a trend worth watching.  For now we’re digging to see if any impact is materializing in the South as the brown states have reached “widespread” levels of Flu activity.  And for those who haven’t bookmarked http://www.cdc.gov/flu/ now is a good time.

 

 

Eric Levine

Director


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